Once hailed for his tireless efforts in explaining the Fukushima nuclear crisis to the public, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano came under a barrage of criticism for the information he released.
The relentless attack at the Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission on May 27 forced Edano to acknowledge huge communication problems and ignorance over nuclear emergency measures, including evacuations. He also apologized to victims of the disaster.
“There was a gap between what I was thinking and how victims (of the accident) understood (the information),” Edano told the commission. “I am sorry.”
Edano, now the minister of economy, trade and industry, said the Cabinet was not at fault for the way it released information to the public. The problem, he said, was gathering information about the condition of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and developing plans based on it.
“I had instructed government branches and (plant operator) Tokyo Electric Power Co. to provide all the information they obtained,” he said. “I never hesitated to release facts. I announced them immediately when I received them.”
One panel member noted that TEPCO was slow to admit the reactors had melted down after the plant’s power sources were knocked out by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Edano countered that he, as the chief government spokesman at the time, said “there is a good chance of meltdowns” at a news conference two days after the disaster.
“I did not say anything to deny the possibility (of meltdowns), and I was dealing with the situation on the assumption that meltdowns had occurred,” he said.
TEPCO did not acknowledge the meltdowns until May 12, 2011.
“If I had given the impression that reactors would not melt down, it was not what I intended,” Edano said.
A panel member, citing sources at TEPCO and the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the prime minister’s office had told the utility and NISA not to announce the possibility of meltdowns ahead of it.
“We asked them to provide information to the prime minister’s office simultaneously if they make an announcement, but we never asked them to obtain approval from the prime minister’s office (for the announcement),” Edano said.
On that note, Edano criticized TEPCO and NISA for failing to keep the prime minister’s office informed.
“At their news conferences, TEPCO or NISA sometimes announced things for the first time that had not been reported to the prime minister’s office,” he said.
The commission also asked Edano about the problems the government faced in gathering information on the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI).
SPEEDI’s data, not released until March 23, 2011, was not used for issuing evacuation orders.
Edano said he learned about SPEEDI on March 15 or 16, 2011.
“An official in charge said, ‘(SPEEDI) cannot be used because there was no information on (radiation) sources,’” he said. “We later found that projections had been separately made and ordered that they all be published.”
Edano said he expects thorough investigations into the issue by the Diet investigation panel.
Evacuation zones were expanded on a patchwork basis, from an initial 3-km radius to 10 km and then 20 km.
Edano said he did not remember how the zoning was set up despite being at the center of the government.
Panel members also harshly criticized Edano over his remarks on the amount of radiation released by the stricken nuclear plant.
At news conferences, he repeated that the radiation doses, calculated by the science ministry, “do not immediately affect the human body.”
Edano said he meant that as long as food was later regulated appropriately, no health effects were expected, even if people ate food sold before shipment restrictions were placed on agricultural products.
However, a panel member said the public had a different interpretation of Edano’s remarks.
Reiko Hachisuka, a panel member who evacuated during the accident, said Edano should have been more explicit about the risks facing evacuees.
“At the time (of the Fukushima nuclear accident), your news conference was the only source of information,” Hachisuka said. “I would like you to have discussed the risks much more.”
Edano eventually acknowledged that he should reflect on the way information was released.
“I thought that long-term evacuation would be prevented. If you say that I should have discussed (risks) more in detail, I must accept (that criticism) with good grace,” Edano said.
Edano did say he opposed the plan of Naoto Kan, the prime minister at the time, to personally inspect the Fukushima No. 1 plant on the early morning of March 12, 2011.
“(Political) criticism was unavoidable that the prime minister would be an obstacle if he traveled to such a place based on the argument about leadership in Japan,” he said.
Kan carried out his plan, saying, “We need a response as close to the best option as possible.”
Although Edano questioned Kan’s move, he did not criticize the former prime minister.
“We could not get anywhere even if we heard from NISA and TEPCO (on the night of March 11, 2011), and information changed frequently,” he said. “Senior officials at the prime minister’s office all believed that the (accident) could not be kept from worsening unless we stepped toward it and thoroughly understood it.”
Motohisa Ikeda, a senior industry minister at the time, was already at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
“(But) communications were not necessarily made at appropriate times, and we believed that we had to find out why information did not reach (the prime minister’s office) and solve that problem,” Edano said. “There are undoubtedly merits to (Kan) going to (the plant). It was up to the prime minister’s judgment.”
One recurring subject at the commission is whether TEPCO planned to abandon the Fukushima plant early on in the crisis.
TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata told the panel’s meeting on May 14 that there were never any plans to pull out all of the workers.
But Edano said he was told between late March 14 and early March 15, 2011, that Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO president at the time, wanted all workers to leave the nuclear plant.
He also said that Shimizu called him on the phone and made a proposal “to the effect of a total withdrawal.”
Edano refused, saying, “(The plant) would go out of control and the situation would worsen rapidly and could not be contained.”
According to Edano, Shimizu “stammered,” indicating that TEPCO indeed planned for a full pullout. “It was clear that (Shimizu) did not mean to leave some (employees) behind (at the plant),” Edano said.
Around that time, Edano talked with Masao Yoshida, chief of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, over the phone.
Edano explained about TEPCO’s “total withdrawal” proposal and asked whether workers at the plant could do something.
According to Edano, Yoshida replied: “There are more things we can do. We will hang on.”
When Shimizu met with Kan at the prime minister’s office just past 4 a.m. on March 15, 2011, he said TEPCO would not withdraw all the employees.
Edano, who was present at the meeting, said he was neither relieved nor surprised.
“We thought when we summoned the president, he would probably say, ‘We will not pull out altogether,’” Edano said.
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